Re: How to correct information in Jewishgen Databases #records

Miriam Bulwar David-Hay

As someone who has done indexing of Polish Jewish records for JRI-Poland, as well as translations of yizkor book entries for JewishGen, I’d like to clarify a few things here. There are really two places where errors can occur: either in the records themselves, or in the transcribing of records by an indexer.

With regard to the first category, the records are primary historical documents that say whatever they say, and indexers are SUPPOSED to transcribe them exactly as they are written. If there is an obvious error or discrepancy in a record — for example, one I have seen personally is in a World War II document where a person’s birth year was written as 1824 instead of 1924 — many indexers will add a note about it, but that is up to the individual indexer. It is not the job of JewishGen or of any indexer to fix the error or perceived error, and definitely not to embark on research to see if that record matches other information. I should also point out that most indexers are volunteers, and we put in a great deal of our own effort and time to index often hundreds or thousands of records in a set. Expecting volunteers not only to index records but also to fact-check the data they are indexing is neither realistic nor reasonable.

With regard to the second category, mistakes made in transcription by an indexer, yes, of course that happens. As I wrote above, indexers go through at hundreds or thousands of old records, which were written by myriad hands in old-fashioned and sometimes not-so-clear cursive script, and however conscientious and careful we may be, we can make errors. From personal experience I can say that in handwritten Polish documents, names like Chana, Chawa and Chaja, Moszka and Mordka, Icek and Josek, Srul and Szmul, and many others, can easily be confused for one another. One of my ancestral surnames is Kaluszyner; in Polish there is a stroke through the l, and I have sometimes seen this name indexed (wrongly) as “Katuszyner.” If someone does notice a mistake in transcription, I suppose they could write to JewishGen or JRI-Poland or whoever’s database it is, but I don’t know whether they have the ability, the staff or the resources to fix such errors. But really, does it matter so much? Thorough researchers will try to find all possible variations of the names of their ancestors, including unlikely ones, and will always aim to look at the original document and not just the index.

Finally, I’d just like to say that for me, and I’d imagine for many others, voluntary work is our way of giving back for all we have learned and gained from these websites over the years. In turn, the efforts of volunteers are what enable websites like JewishGen and JRI-Poland to offer the wonderful resources they offer. 

Wishing everyone all the best,
Raanana, Israel. 

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